Captains Log: 7/25/05 – Marathon, FL

We have been in the middle Keys on Boot Key since Saturday, July 23. We left Key West on Thursday, July 21 with the winds on our nose. We opted to motor into the wind rather than tack back and forth making little headway, but about 5 hours out of Key West, our engine over heated. Turn engine off, put sails up. Rod determined that the problem was an air bubble had been sucked into the raw water cooling system for the engine, causing not enough water to get to the engine to cool it. Hmmmm… what to do…. It was a bit too rough for him to crawl into the engine compartment and try to fix this while we were underway, so we opted to turn back to Key West. It was a very pleasant downwind sail back and we were able to make it back in about 3.5 hours in the ~15 knot winds on our back. I guess Key West just wasn’t ready for us to leave. We were going to attempt to anchor near the boneyard (see update below), which was a bit unnerving, but after we dropped our hook we were quickly visited by an anchored neighbor. A very nice Frenchman named Chris (Chreese) warned us that the holding in that area was not good at all. I replied that based on the boats on the beach that’s what we suspected. He graciously offered us one of his moorings for the night. He assured us that it would hold because he had put it there himself – about 275 pounds of anchor attached to about 600 pounds of steel from the nearby wreck on the bottom. With a wave and a French accented “You will rest well tonight”, he zoomed away in his dinghy back to his 60+ foot ketch moored behind us. We did rest very well that night and were able to get an early start the next morning when we determined that the engine running just a bit more was able to suck the air bubble through the system, so we didn’t need to burp it out after all.

Friday, July 20 we anchored at Bahia Honda State park, which was great because it was really our first short day on the water. We arrived there around 2pm and just hung out for the afternoon. Ahhhh… Saturday we arrived here in Marathon with a list of things to check on and fix. As I write this, Rod is doing the happy dance because he just discovered what has been causing us to be taking on water (which he has now fixed), and he fixed the refrigeration! Yay!!!! I helped him by holding a flashlight and confirming which hoses moved when he wiggled the other ends. Oh, I also pointed fans at him so he wouldn’t suffer heat exhaustion in the engine compartment. I play a very important role in maintaining these systems.

Weather report indicates westerly winds which are odd for this time of year here, but great for us. We plan to leave here tomorrow.

Captains Log: 7/24/05 – Life on a Boat

So far, life on a boat has been busy. We have been “live-aboards” for a little more than a month now and we continue to learn how the boat systems work and how to troubleshoot and fix the variety of things that have needed repaired. This shake-down period has been more difficult and time-consuming than I expected. We have experienced frustration and anxiety and then sheer joy and satisfaction from determining the solution to a problem. They say that the cruising lifestyle is just a way to work on your boat in exotic locations. So now we are looking forward to getting to more exotic locations to continue our work.

What have we needed to repair or just simply maintain thus far?
Outboard motor for dinghy needed throttle cable/handle repaired.
Dinghy wasn’t holding air and it needed a new oar lock.
Head was smelly – and not from us. Bought a rebuild kit.
Oil needed changed, but we needed a drain tool constructed to make it easier to get the old oil out. Mechanic in St. Pete helped us with that.
Boat was taking on a tremendous amount of water – where was that pesky leak? Thought it was condensation from the air conditioning unit. It was putting some water in the bilge, but not at the pace the automatic bilge was coming on to pump it out (bilge was coming on every 2.5 minutes!). Thought it was the water heater leaking. Nope. Thought it was the water pressure pump which was leaking a lot, but were very disappointed when replacing that pump didn’t fix the problem. Finally, traced a mystery hose and found the source. Then with a simple turn of a Y valve we were no longer sinking. Whew.
Water pressure pump went out – replaced.
Automatic bilge pump was working erratically, which is concerning when you’re taking on water. But just so you know, for our safety, we have three back-up bilge systems, including a manual one. No, not a bucket. So we weren’t really going to sink, at least not quickly.
Refrigeration went out twice. Simple problems that we fixed.
Air conditioning went out twice, then worked, and is now out again. Nothing that we’re wasting any time with right now because we can only use the a/c when were are plugged in at a marina, which will be infrequently.
Fuel filters needed replaced.

For the first 3 weeks of living aboard in Ruskin and St. Petersburg, our typical day was to get up, have a bowl of cereal, work on items that needed fixed, get really hot and sweaty, discover something else that needs fixed, make some phone calls to get replacement parts, get even more hot and sweaty, contribute to the economy by shopping at the local West Marine, listen to the weather forecast to see where the next hurricane is forming, have a cold beer and some dinner and watch the sunset from our cockpit.

For the last 2 weeks of living aboard since leaving St. Pete, our typical day starts with a bowl of cereal, listen to the weather report, determine if our charted course for the day is still on given the weather, fix sandwiches to be eaten in route, set sail, marvel at the beauty of the water, have fun sailing, take turns napping while under way if we feel like it, study the charts of our course, occasionally get visited by dolphins, arrive at destination if all goes well, get the boat ship-shape, go for a swim in the turquoise waters, have a cold beer and some dinner (we try to use the Magma BBQ on the stern of our boat as much as possible so we don’t heat up the cabin of our boat by using our stove) and watch the sunset from out cockpit. Sprinkled in some of those days has been the need to fix things while under way.

I am currently reading “A Salty Piece of Land” by Jimmy Buffett, which is such a perfect book to be reading on a boat, especially as we sailed through the Keys. Rod is currently reading the Perkins Diesel Engine Mechanics Guide. Two days ago on approach to Elliott Key our engine konked out after showing some signs that the fuel filter was in need of changing. We anchored in the bay under sail – impressing ourselves – and then Rod proceeded to change the filter. What a relief and giant sense of satisfaction when the engine started – yay! But short-lived relief, when yet again today we had to sail into our anchorage because the engine pooped out. Signs are that the secondary fuel filter needed changed as well. Rod is working on that as I write this, which is challenging to do while my fingers are crossed.

I naively romanticized that I would just get on the boat and sail off with my pareau and hair blowing perfectly in the island breeze. It hasn’t been quite that simple as it’s been intermixed with some boat maintenance and troubleshooting. I guess there has to be some price for this lifestyle.

Captains Log: 7/20/05 – Key West, FL

Since our last update we have sailed over 180 nautical miles to arrive in the southern most point of the US. We are currently enjoying the turquoise waters of Key West and the other colorful sights – the people.

We did leave St. Petersburg on Thursday, July 14. Since we got such an early start on departure, leaving at 3pm, we anchored for the night just outside Tampa Bay at a little island called Egmont Key (state park). It was so great to finally be on our way! The anchorage ended up being a miserable night because the winds clocked around and we rocked and rolled on the swells all night. We then traveled to Venice, FL, spending a night there, then on to Boca Grande, at the entrance to Charlotte Harbor, where we had a beautiful night anchoring. We left early the next morning knowing that we had a long day to our next stop which was Marco Island. The winds were on our nose most of the way which slowed us down causing us to arrive after dark. Lesson learned – never arrive at your anchorage after dark. It’s very hard to see. What was on the charts as a great place to anchor had recently become a shoal (very shallow) due to storms. We continued to follow the channel marker signs – me on the bow with a flashlight calling back marker numbers to Rod. The large dredge barges that were anchored nearby should have given us some indication that something was amiss, but we trusted our chart so we continued. Until we ran aground. Oops. Luckily it was a sandy bottom and the tide was ripping in, so we were able to back off with the help of the tidal current. We did find a spot to drop anchor but weren’t comfortable with the conditions. So we turned Lucky Peek back to sea at 10:00pm and set our course for Key West – 80 miles south. Our first big crossing and we were going to experience the first part of it by the light of an almost full moon. After the previous two days of having the wind on our nose we were looking forward to the winds shifting around and blowing from the East allowing us to sail south quickly on a beam reach. We made a few phone calls to friends and family to file a “sail plan” so they would know when to expect to hear from us, then we established our watch schedule. I had a lot of adrenaline going so I took the first watch while Rod rested in the cockpit. Around 1:30am he got up for his watch and we agreed that we needed to reduce sail and slow the boat down from the 7+ knots that it had been averaging in the 15-20 knot winds. The winds on our beam were nice, but the seas on the beam made for a rockin’ sail – not the most comfortable to say the least. At 4am, seeing thunderstorms ahead of us, we decided to really slow the boat down by “heaving to”, which means we configured the sails to practically stop the boat. That resulted in a much more comfortable motion and allowed us a break from the previous 24 hours of sailing. Rod and I continued to take turns at the helm through the night and were relieved to see the light of day around 6am when we put the boat back on a full-speed course. A pod of about 40 dolphins welcomed us that morning by racing around the boat and playing in our bow wake as we approached our destination. So magical and cool and one of the sights that made the overnight passage worth it. . We reached the entrance channel to Key West at 3pm, but it took another two hours of motoring straight into the wind to travel the remaining 7 miles to the island. As the depth shallowed the water turned to an amazing, post-card shade of turquoise, providing the perfect backround for the tan shelled turtle that surfaced to greet us. We arrived safe and exhilarated, but sea-weary and exhausted.

Key West has been a fun place to spend a couple of days. The nightly sunset celebration on the waterfront is full of cruise ship tourists and local kooks doing their sidewalk shows for a living. Seeing the cash that gets deposited in their buckets it seems that they’re making a pretty good income by being crazy. Rod and I are brainstorming ideas for our sidewalk show so we can add to our cruising kitty. Too bad we didn’t bring our karaoke machine and Sonny and Cher outfits.

While in Key West we visited some of the typical tourist locations including the Earnest Hemmingway house, which is where he lived many years with his high-maintenance wife number 2 (or 3?) Pauline, and did much of his writing. There are still about 50 famous six-toed cats living on the property that are direct descendants of his cats. We also had an obligatory photo-opp at the Southernmost point of the US, which indicated that we were only 90 miles from Cuba! Our rental bicycles made it much easier to get around and we blended in with the other 2,000 cycling tourists.

On the weather front, we have had clear skies and hot temps. We are listening to reports of Tropical Storm Franklin which is forming off the coast of the Bahamas. From our boat we have a clear view of a beach littered with boats from the last hurricane. Very creepy. Go North, Franklin. Please go North.

Captains Log: 7/11/05 – Goodbye Dennis, Hello Emily

We survived Dennis without damage! Unfortunately, boats in a marina about a mile north of us weren’t so lucky. The Vinoy Marina, which didn’t have a break wall, was destroyed and a 61’ boat sank from the broken-up docks punching holes in it’s hull. Yikes. We took the advice of the locals and tied up our boat very securely and went inland. We stayed at Chris and Susan’s (in Orlando) for a couple of days and Moon was in heaven at what we now refer to as the Conrad Doggie Spa. Park (Chris and Susan’s 9 year old daughter) coaxed Moon into their pool for a swim with her, and it didn’t take any further encouragement for the many subsequent dips. After a tearful goodbye, we put Moon on an airplane Monday morning and she made it safely to Boise by 1pm. Alan reported that she was so happy to see him when he picked her up that she gave him her big Moonie smile. Although we are very sad to send her to foster care, we are relieved to know that she will be much more comfortable at the Nelson’s and will be treated in the royal manner in which she is accustomed.

We are now closely watching Tropical Storm Emily while planning our departure from St. Petersburg. At this point we are thinking that we will leave on Thursday and make some distance south before possibly having to duck into somewhere if Emily picks up steam and heads this way. She is currently on a southerly track so our fingers are crossed for that path to continue. As I write this Rod is sitting at the nav desk studying charts, anchorages, and listening to the weather guy who just provided the update that current offshore wind conditions are light at 2 knots and seas are low at only 2 feet swells. Hopefully those conditions hold for us on the nights that we’ll be on the hook.

We plan to go to the space coast tomorrow to watch the shuttle launch from Chris and Susan’s boat on Merritt Island near Cape Canaveral. Looking forward to being there to experience it in person, if it actually happens as scheduled. We will rent a car, drive it and the Trooper to their house, leave the Trooper there, then bring the rental car back to St. Pete. We will then be car-free, with one less key to manage, and ready to head out.

Stay tuned… Lisa

Captains Log: 7/7/05 – St. Petersburg, FL

We’ve been in St. Petersburg since last Friday, July 1 and it’s been great to experience a new place! St. Petersburg has been fun to explore and we are right next to the Salvador Dali Museum, which features the largest collection of Dali’s work outside of Spain. We visited the museum on the 4th. He was an amazing artist with work extending outside of his well-known surreal pieces.

Our arrival in St. Petersburg wasn’t as pleasant, however, due to a recent red tide. It was very sad, creepy, and stinky to be surrounded by dead fish as we were coming into the Harborage marina and we didn’t understand why all the casualties – the saddest and most abundent victims were the rays. We learned from the marina manager, and then regularly by the local news, that we were seeing the affects of one of the worst red tides in Tampa Bay history, where an algae bloom releases toxins that are deadly to sealife, All part of nature, but still quite sad (and did I mention stinky?).

One of the best parts of leaving Ruskin was leaving the no-see-ums behind. I was told by a local pharmacist that I must have sweet blood , which was causing them to be so attracted to me. At one point I had 184 bites. The red, swollen, very itchy welts were not the least bit comfortable and I made sure to share that discomfort with Rod and anyone else who cared, or didn’t care for that matter, to listen to me complain. And they were oh so attractive. Those large red bumps combined with the blue and green bruises that adorned my shins and thighs from finding all-things-sticking-out on the boat were almost enough to make me wear long pants. But that would have been just crazy in these temperatures and I’m not that crazy. Comfort won over vanity.

The wildlife here in Florida has been quite different from Idaho. Our first night here at the Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg we were visited by a six foot bull shark. (Sorry, Mom, that I didn’t tell you about this.) We had been warned that the dead fish were attracting sharks into the marina, and sure enough the one we saw swam right up to the back of our boat and circled around the immediate area for about an hour. Check out the pictures! The marina was on the local news for all of the reported shark sightings. And then just last night we saw “Walter” – an eight foot resident alligator that we’d heard about. We’re keeping Moon on a very short leash.

Speaking of Moon, she has requested to return home. She is just not adapting well to life on a boat. The heat is taking a toll on her, especially since she is not allowed to swim in the shark and alligator waters, and her aged hind legs are too weak to allow her to maneuver herself on/off and around the boat very well. Sadly, we have come the realization that this experience is not adding to her life, and is quite possibly taking away from it. Our good friends, Alan and Laura, have offered to be her foster parents while we continue on our journey. We are currently making arrangements to send her home via Delta airlines this weekend or early next week, depending on the heat since the airline will not allow her to fly if the temperatures are over 85 degrees during one of her flight transfers. This has been a very hard decision for us but we know that it’s the best one for her.

Rod and I, on the other hand, are adjusting quite well to living on the boat. We’ve had to do more minor maintenance on the boat than we expected upon arrival, and we (okay, not “we” – Rod is doing the work, but I am learning a few things – like the difference between vice grips and other clampy things that at first glance could be mistaken for vice grips) are getting more comfortable with the boat mechanics through the process. If there’s anything that I miss thus far it’s an ice maker. J

The last few items that we are repairing or having repaired are the outboard motor handle for the dinghy, the raw water pump for the diesel, and an oil changing pump out thing. See how much I’m learning! We met a great mechanic here in St. Pete that gave us a one-on-one overview on being kind to our diesel engine. If it weren’t for Dennis (latest hurricane brewing near Jamaica) we would be looking forward to heading out soon, but we’re going to sit tight until more favorable weather conditions prevail.

Tired of writing for now, and I’m sure you’re tired of reading. Until next time… Lisa